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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

‘Nasty party’ tag shared by UKIP and the Tories

UKIP and the Conservative Party now share the "nasty Party" tag according to a new ITV News / ComRes poll. Around a third of Britons associate the phrase "nasty" with the Conservatives (30%) and UKIP (32%), compared to just 18% who say the same about Labour.

While just one in seven (14%) describe Labour as having a strong leader, the Conservatives and UKIP are tied on 32%.

The description most associated with the Conservative Party is "divided" (45%), but it is also seen by 37% of voters as "having the competence to govern" - significantly higher than the 26% of voters who think Labour has the competence to govern. Despite the Liberal Democrats four years in government, just one in twelve (8%) Britons associate the Party with having the competence to govern.

While UKIP describes itself as the "People's Army", more of the public think Labour "stands up for people like me" than UKIP (28% Labour, 23% UKIP).

Most voters (59%) say they do not associate any party with keeping its promises. The fragmentation of the British party system is clear: when asked which party has the best policies for Britain's future, 27% say the Conservatives, 23% Labour, 19% UKIP, 8% Lib Dem, 7% Green, and 28% think none of them.

Tom Mludzinski, Head of Political Polling at ComRes said: "None of the parties come out of this particularly well. While UKIP now share the "nasty" mantle, once held by the Conservatives the strength of Nigel Farage as a leader is also evident. While voters hate seeing a divided Party, the Conservatives also lead on competence, something the Liberal Democrats have failed to reap any benefits on despite tough decisions made in office."

Tory MEPs split three ways in election of the new European Commission

Today MEPs from across Europe elected the new European Commission for the next five years - 2014-2019. The process included the election of David Cameron’s nominee for Commissioner for Financial Services, Lord Hill. Conservative MEPs split into the for, against and abstain column. The news comes after it was confirmed that David Cameron had just this week called on Tory MEPs to vote in favour of the new Commission and Commissioner, only six were loyal to their leader.

“Downing Street is now applying pressure to get Conservative MEPs to vote in favour of the Juncker Commission” ConservativeHome, 20 October, 2014

Pat McFadden MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Europe, speaking after Conservative MEPs defied David Cameron and split three ways in voting on the European Commission, said: "Today Tory MEPs ignored David Cameron’s pleas and voted against his own choice of candidate for the UK’s Commissioner. We know that David Cameron can’t control his own backbenchers in Westminster on Europe, and now it seems he’s lost control of his MEPs too.

"It is in Britain’s interests to have the British nominated Commissioner in charge of the financial services brief, but many Conservative MEPs have just voted against this. The appointment of a new European Commission represents an important opportunity for reform in Europe which must be seized by the Prime Minister, and not squandered. But at the very time when Britain should be leading the debate on reform, the Conservatives are instead relegating themselves to the fringes in Europe, undermining both their impact and Britain’s influence as a result.”


Tory MEPs’ votes breakdown

Against
1. Nirj Deva
2. Daniel Hannan
3. Emma McClarkin

Abstained
1. David Campbell Bannerman
2. Ian Duncan
3. Vicky Ford
4. Jacqui Foster
5. Ashley Fox
6. Syed Kamall
7. Charles Tannock
8. Geoffrey Van Orden
9. Andrew Lewer

In favour
1. Richard Ashworth
2. Julie Girling
3. Sajjad Karim
4. Timothy Kirkhope
5. Anthea McIntyre
6. Kay Swinburne

Andy Burnham writes to David Cameron on his failure to answer questions on the NHS

Following Prime Minister's Questions, where the Prime Minister David Cameron and the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband clashed on the NHS, the Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has written to the Prime Minister to ask him to answer the questions, he failed to answer in the Commons. Below is the letter to the Prime Minister sent this afternoon, said:

22 October, 2014 
Dear Prime Minister, 
At Prime Minister's Questions today Ed Miliband raised the serious issue of the English NHS and its increasingly precarious position after four years of this Conservative Government. Asked five questions about the English NHS, you failed to answer. 
You were asked the following questions:
  • Why 16 leading health organisations representing doctors, nurses and patients are warning that health and social care services in England are "at breaking point". You had no answer to their warnings about what's happening to the NHS on your watch.
  • You were asked to confirm that in England we have the highest waiting lists for six years, the highest number of people waiting more than four hours in A&E for 10 years, the cancer treatment target missed for the first time ever and millions of people can't get to see their GP. You had nothing to say on these facts which concern people across England.
  • You were asked about your top-down reorganisation of the NHS, which has wasted £3 billion. You didn't say whether you agree with a Cabinet colleague that it was a huge mistake.
  • You were asked about the warnings of the Conservative chair of the Health Select Committee about your funding plans and charging in the NHS. You had no answer to her views.
  • You were asked to support the NHS by funding one-week cancer testing with a levy on the tobacco companies and you wouldn't explain why you refuse to do so.
These are serious issues which are of great concern to the public. On all of them you provided no answers. Instead you attempted to run away from your record on the NHS by launching another attack on the NHS in Wales.
The country and the NHS deserve better. Rather than indulging in smears and diversionary tactics you would be better advised to spend your time addressing the fact that NHS which is at breaking point under your Government. 
As you yourself said in the aftermath of the Scottish referendum, "the millions of voices of England must also be heard." If these words are to mean anything at all then you must immediately address the issues you were asked about today. 
Until you focus on saving rather than smearing the NHS, the public will be understandably confronted with the sad truth that all this Government offers is five more years of crisis in the health service. 
Yours sincerely, 
Andy Burnham  
Shadow Health Secretary

Bookies refund bets on 'UKIP Calypso' reaching No.1

Ladbrokes have refunded all bets placed on UKIP Calypso reaching Number One in the UK singles chart. 

With Mike Read distancing himself from the song and asking the record label to withdraw it from sale, the firm are voiding all wagers that were placed on the song taking the UK singles No.1 spot this weekend at 50/1.

Jessica Bridge of Ladbrokes said: "UKIP Calypso was a bad idea from day one and we've decided to refund all bets on it reaching the dizzy heights of No.1."

Clegg: liberating teacher's "burdensome workloads"

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has given a speech this morning to an audience of public sector workers including teachers, social workers, local government and NHS staff, Civil Service apprentices & Fast Streamers.

This major speech about the public sector as a whole and in it, he heaped praise on public sector workers (something he thinks has been lacking). He turned his attention to helping liberate teachers from burdensome workloads that prevent them from focusing on what they do best - helping children do better at school.

Earlier this year the Deputy Prime Minister said that teachers in particular had been left feeling "browbeaten and that they are not properly valued". He said that we now need to "reset that relationship" and instead engage in a "spirit and tone of mutual respect...and that we seek out every opportunity to celebrate, and not always seek to denigrate, the fantastic work that teachers do."

The Deputy Prime Minister also said he was "increasingly concerned" by the rising workloads faced by teachers: "I've met too many teachers now who feel somewhat beleaguered by the amount of administrative form filling, some of which they don't feel makes much sense, or is repetitive or is somehow seeking to second-guess their professional judgement."

So to tackle this, The Deputy Prime Minister is today launching The Workload Challenge, inviting teachers across the country to have their say on the causes of unnecessary workload and giving them the opportunity to tell the Government exactly what should be done about it.

In the New Year, a panel led by teachers and other experts from the education sector - will scrutinise the best ideas, then work with teachers, Ofsted, unions and other leading education stakeholders to put them into action, leading to a programme of action starting early in the year.

Some people imagine a teacher's day being from the moment the gates open to the moment the bell rings in the afternoon.

  • In fact, teachers in England work on average 48 hours a week (with one in 10 reporting working weeks of 65 hours or more) (source: OECD).
  • Only 20 of those hours are spent in the classroom (source: OECD).
  • The remainder of their time is spent on other tasks like administration, lesson preparation and marking work. The OECD figures showed that teachers in England spent more time on those tasks than their colleagues in countries with high-performing education systems.
  • They work longer hours than the rest of world but spend less time in the classroom than in other countries (source: OECD).
  • Every action has a process - health and safety forms, inputting results from exams and marking, and filling in forms for a school trip in triplicate for no apparent reason.
Common problems sited by teachers:
  • Excessive expectations on marking work, with teachers being expected to mark up to 100 books per day.
  • Preparing and providing excessive amounts evidence for performance management purposes.
  • Repeated data entry of the same information.
  • Being told to write comments in different colours.
  • Overly-burdensome lesson planning and health & safety forms.

Nick Clegg also wants to free teachers up to spend the time outside the classroom doing what they know will help their class do better. Earlier this week he announced that the Government will bring in new ways of supporting parts of the public sector:
  • A new commitment to help blue light workers stay mentally well and stop them from burning out. The DPM launched a pilot with the charity Mind, to start in spring 2015; and
  • That dads employed in the civil service who choose to share parental leave with their partner will get the same entitlements to full paternity pay just like mums currently get to full maternity pay.
About public sector workers Nick Clegg said: "Your contribution is even more remarkable given that - over the last four years, in the wake of the biggest financial crisis in living memory, with our public services having to absorb significant spending cuts - every public service has had to do more with less. In Coalition, we've had to take difficult decisions on pay and pensions as we deal with the deficit - because there is nothing remotely fair or public spirited about saddling our children and grandchildren with those debts.

"You've had to make personal sacrifices - to keep more of your colleagues in work and protect essential services for those who need them most. As a result of those decisions, those sacrifices, our country is back on track. Our country is growing again. More people are in work than ever before. And while a lot of families are still feeling the squeeze, we are finally through the fire. Up and down the country, people can once again look to their future with hope."

"The question is: what next? The job's not done. We've still got a way to go to pay down the deficit and, if the last five years were about securing Britain's recovery, the next five years must be about moving from a period of rescue to a period of renewal. How do we learn to live within our means while providing people with the innovative and world class public services they deserve? That is one of the central questions all political parties must answer at the next General Election, and each one of the UK's main political parties has a different response."

"On the Right, you have the Chancellor pledging to carry on cutting, asking the working poor to bear the brunt of those final years of deficit reduction by squeezing unprotected public services - such as social care, welfare, education and policing - even harder. On the Left, you have more reckless borrowing from Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, even though it will jeopardise the recovery your sacrifices have secured, even though it will threaten the future investment in the services you represent."

"In the centre, you have us - the Liberal Democrats. We believe in sound public finances supporting strong public services. We recognise that to build a stable, more balanced economy and a fairer society in Britain, we need both our public sector and private sector to thrive together, and we see you - Britain's public servants - as our partners in this."

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Political and Constitutional Reform Committee: Committee in Edinburgh to hear evidence on devolution settlement - Chair calls on all party leaders to engage in inquiry

The Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Graham Allen MP, has reacted with dismay to the news that the leaders of the three main parties at Westminster have declined invitations to appear before the Committee to explain their visions for the future of devolution after the Scottish referendum.

Graham Allen said: "In the weeks and days before the Scottish referendum, the Westminster party leaders engaged directly with the people of Scotland and made significant promises to them about the future of devolution in the UK. I thought it important to invite each of the party leaders to explain to us, as soon as the House returned, their visions for the future of devolution in the UK and the implications and opportunities for devolution to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

"While I understand that devolution proposals for Scotland are now under consideration in the all-party SmIth Commission, I am frankly disappointed that none of the party leaders at Westminster have been able to accept the invitation to discuss with my Committee the implications of the public commitments they have made. I shall be renewing my invitation to the leaders to appear before the Committee once the Smith proposals are published.

"The Committee will be in Edinburgh on Thursday to take evidence on the future of the UK devolution settlement after the referendum. On this visit, and in subsequent evidence, we want to hear from the political parties in all parts of the UK about how they see UK-wide devolution developing and what sort of settlement is best for our constitutional future."

In the opening session of evidence for this inquiry the Committee will hear from a representative of the Scottish Labour Party and from the Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change.

Date and time: Thursday 16 October 2014 at 10.15 am
Location: Salisbury Suite 1, Macdonald Holyrood Hotel, Edinburgh

At 10.15 am: Lewis Macdonald MSP, Chief Whip, Scottish Labour Party

At 11.00 am: Professor Michael Keating, Director, and Professor Nicola McEwen, Associate Director, Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change

Monday, 13 October 2014

Ireland to take part in Remembrance Sunday Cenotaph ceremony

The Government of Ireland has been invited to lay a wreath at this and future years’ Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph on 9 November 2014 in recognition of the immense contribution and shared sacrifice made by many thousands of Irish men and women who have served in the British Armed Forces.

The invitation, which coincides with the centenary year of the outbreak for the First World War, will be delivered on Tuesday 14 October to the Irish Ambassador to the United Kingdom, H.E. Daniel Mulhall, by Dr Andrew Murrison MP, the Prime Minister’s special representative for the Centenary Commemoration of the First World War and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said: “Throughout the First World War Irish servicemen stood side by side with men and women from across Great Britain and the Commonwealth. As we commemorate the centenary of the start of the war it is right we remember our nations’ shared sacrifice.”

Her Majesty the Queen will lead the Remembrance Sunday commemorations alongside other members of the Royal Family. The Prime Minister, leading politicians, representatives of many of the world's religions, dignitaries and military leaders will also attend.